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Context, Context, Context

October 25th, 2004 · No Comments

Someone could probably start a full-time blog just calling bullshit on instances of Dowdification. For instance, we’ve got a new stump speech talking point from Bush today that’s been making the rounds:

Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 — and that our military had a chance to get him in Tora Bora. This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field. This is the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking. And it is what we’ve come to expect from Senator Kerry.” Bush then quotes Tommy Franks, before continuing, “Before Senator Kerry got into political difficulty and revised his views, he saw Tora Bora differently. In the fall of 2001, on national TV, Senator Kerry said, ‘I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way.’ At the time, Senator Kerry said about Tora Bora, ‘I think we’ve been smart. I think administration leadership has done well, and we are on the right track.’ End quote. All I can say is that I am George W. Bush, and I approve of that message.

Now, here’s the relevant excerpt of the CNN transcript:

CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don’t use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?

KING: Senator Kerry?

CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him out.

KING: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

So the shocking flip-flop here is that Kerry once said not indiscriminately napalming big swaths of terrain was a strategy of which he approved. This is almost as stupid a non-issue as the “voted for [the version of the bill I supported] before I voted against [a version of the bill I had problems with].” In the interests of bipartisanship, though, I note that this Ryan Lizza piece in the recent TNR starts of well, with a good catalogue of instances where Bush misleads by distorting the statements of others. Almost immediately thereafter, though, we get this:

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson had “Daisy.” This year, Bush has Cheney. Before the war in Iraq, it was Cheney who said, “We believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

But Eugene Volokh already exploded this one for National Review. If you look at the original transcript it becomes crystal clear that Cheney is throughout claiming (also, as we discovered, not right) that Hussein has reconstituted nuclear weapons programs, while conceding implicitly that he hasn’t yet got the actual weapons. On one of those occasions, he slipped and said “reconstituted nuclear weapons” when he meant “weapons programs,” but there’s no real doubt what he’s talking about if you look at the whole thing.

Anyway, I wonder if we aren’t partly to blame for this whole stupid trend of context-free “gotcha-quote” pulling. It has a definite bloggy feel to it, and I can’t recall a previous election where the tactic of abusing people’s old (actually unremarkable in context) statements was so common.

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